May 20, 2024

President Joe Biden walks along the UAW picket line and engages with union members at the GM Willow Run Distribution Center, Tuesday, September 26, 2023, in Belleville, Michigan. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

On October 30th, after 46 days, the “stand-up” strike officially came to an end when the United Auto Workers (UAW) reached a Tentative Agreement (TA) with the last of “the Big Three”, GM. Before this, TAs were reached with Ford and Stellantis on October 25th and 28th, respectively. These agreements are nothing short of a betrayal of the workers. They failed to achieve even the demands the UAW itself was calling for, let alone the demands the workers deserve. Before we get into the details of the TAs, we must take time to analyze the “stand-up” strike strategy of which these TAs are a direct result.

From the outset of the strike, the CWPUSA has expressed solidarity with the striking auto workers. At the same time, we did not hesitate to expose the treachery of the UAW in calling for a “stand-up” strike strategy. Unlike a full strike, this strategy purposefully called out a small portion of the workers to strike while the rest were forced to work under an expired contract. The UAW has argued that the strategy would sow confusion within the camp of the bosses while allowing the union to use actual or threatened expansions to “ratchet up the pressure” on the bosses. In reality, it was a means to spare the bosses their profits, all while seeming militant. The CWPUSA correctly identified it as a losing strategy and never ceased calling for a full strike. The tentative agreements reached through the leadership of the UAW and the “stand-up” strike demonstrate the treasonous and ineffectual character of both. 

The agreements have failed to protect workers from the planned transition to electric vehicles. This transition, spearheaded by the Democratic Party and the section of the capitalist class it represents, occurs in the context of the sharpening contradictions in the world imperialist system between the two opposing imperialist camps, the US-EU-NATO and the China-Russia camp. China and the US are confronting each other for supremacy in the world imperialist system. This confrontation, itself a struggle for a re-division of markets generally, is manifesting as a struggle over dominance in the electric vehicles market, of which China has the largest. In fact, according to a bourgeois research firm, Canalys, 59% of all EV sales occurred in China in 2022.

Meanwhile, the US saw only 9% of worldwide sales. One of the benefits of switching to EV production for the auto monopolies is that EVs require fewer workers to produce than standard combustion vehicles. According to the CEO of Ford, Jim Farley, the production of EVs requires 40% fewer workers. The workers are right to fear a job massacre since they know from experience that the bosses do not tolerate a surplus of workers for long. The UAW claimed to be fighting to protect their jobs during this transfer, citing the right to strike over plant closures.

What does a concession like this realistically mean when the yellow trade unionist leadership is unwilling to strike fully? Even putting aside this legitimate concern about the administration, the TA explicitly spares BlueOval Battery Park Michigan (BOBM), Ford’s $3.5 billion new battery facility, from any future strike actions once it begins regular operations. According to the agreement, both the bosses “acknowledge the importance of operational and structural flexibility for this facility.” Worse still, the deal gives BOBM free rein to anything it wants to “provide improved profitability opportunities,” which includes “outsourc[ing] work or materials”.  

Far from demonstrating their commitment to protecting jobs, these concessions only show the UAW’s loyalty to safeguarding the bosses’ investments. Connected to this is the worrying inclusion of a provision in the Ford-UAW agreement that would classify the entire Rouge complex in Michigan as a “surplus,” effective no later than December 1st, 2023. According to the provision, this would make all workers eligible for all transfers to facilities in and out of Michigan. So, while the UAW gloats about saving other facilities, they are quiet about leaving the Rouge complex on the chopping block. This is because the UAW is not interested in preventing the upcoming jobs massacre that the transition to EV production will entail. Their role in this transition is to smooth over discontent and ensure a steady supply of docile workers.  

Another area where the TA falls short is in increases to wages. According to the agreement, full-time workers will receive an immediate 11% wage increase, a 3% increase in 2024, 2025, and 2026, and a 5% increase in 2027 for a total of 25% over the life of the contract (4.5 years). Which is far below the 45% the union said it was fighting for. With the Cumulative inflation rate since 2008 being 43%, even this demand would have fallen short of what auto workers deserve. So 25% is beyond the pale; it is a slap in the face to all auto workers who believed their leadership had their best interests at heart.

In 2007, many workers saw their pay rates cut in half, dropping from $28 to $14 an hour, all under the pretext of “saving jobs”. Adjusting for inflation, $28 would be roughly $41.56. The top pay rate set by the TA would be $40 in 2028. This means that a top-pay worker in 2028 would be making less than a worker over 20 years ago. 

One of the workers’ major demands was the re-establishment of the cost of living adjustments or COLAs. The TA does include COLAs, but the formula used to calculate them is the 2009 formula. This does not account for the decades of class collaborationism between the UAW and the bosses, which resulted in the inferior 2009 formula. For example, in 2003, the UAW agreed to change the formula to exclude the cost of medical care inflation from Consumer Price Index (CPI) calculations. A way of offloading the, even then, rising costs of medical care. This same deficiency is found in the TA’s COLA formula, which explicitly states that it calculates “All Items Less Medical Care…” 

Another demand was ending tiers, and the TAs failed to deliver on the UAW’s promise to abolish tiers from the contract. The Tier system, first introduced in 2007 during the crisis in the automotive industry, sees workers split based on when they were hired. As a result of this system, those hired after 2007 (Tier 2 workers) were denied a pension and healthcare when they retire. Both of which are provided to workers hired before 2007. Additionally, tier 2 workers have to work eight years to reach top pay when it used to take just three years. True, the TA reverts this progression to the 3-year model but fails to provide post-retirement healthcare or even traditional pensions to all workers. In this way, the tier system is perpetuated. This is nothing short of a failure to deliver on a significant demand of the workers. 

A common tactic of profit maximization employed by the capitalist class has been the use of “temporary workers.” “The Big Three” has been no exception, with Stellantis being the most egregious offender, followed by GM and Ford. About 12% of Stellantis’ UAW workforce are temp workers, while GM and Ford make up 5-10% and 3%, respectively. Often brought on at a lower wage, these workers form the ranks of just another tier. Despite doing the same work, they are not eligible for many of the benefits provided by regular full-time status. For example, the GM-UAW agreement explicitly states, “Temporary employees will be excluded from the UAW-GM Life and Disability Benefits Program, Pension Plan, Dependent Care Reimbursement Plan, and any other UAW-GM benefit plan or program.”

Despite claims from the UAW leadership to the contrary, the Ford-UAW agreement does not end “Perma-temps” or temps workers that are kept perpetually as temporary despite working years at the company.

The agreement does allow for temporary workers to get regular full-time status but only after nine months of “continuous service” or uninterrupted employment. Such provisions leave temp workers at the whims of the bosses. It is not uncommon for “The Big Three” to put temporary workers on indefinite “temporary” leave, which would see them lose eligibility for full-time status if extended for long enough. Instead of ending temporary work entirely, the agreement only limits the number of temps to 8% of the company-wide active UAW hourly population. But even these have loopholes built into it as there are provisions that allow facilities to have up to 10% so long as this does not cause the overall percentage to go above 8%. Even worse, other provisions enable facilities to go above 10% as long as the UAW agrees.

The Stellantis-UAW agreement, while stating that 1,957 temps will be converted to full-time status within 90 days, allows the company to extend this period as long as the UAW agrees. Such provisions should have no place in any of the agreements. The practice of temporary work must be fought against ruthlessly and wholly abolished. Of course, the capitalists will, and actually do, argue that temporary work is necessary to maintain competitiveness (Read: keep their exorbitant profits), but none of this should be of any concern to the union. The union must fight for the interests of one class alone: the working class. Let the bosses cover any difference in profits from their coffers if remaining competitive is so dear to them.  

It is clear now, given the above, that the agreements between the UAW and “The Big Three” are not only insufficient but the result of a yellow trade unionist leadership who purposefully engaged a losing strategy, the “Stand-up Strike,” so that they could strike, maintaining their facade of labor militancy while minimizing the harm done to the profits of the capitalist. The collaboration of the UAW with the bosses that characterized the union for decades did not end with the election of Fain; instead, it took on a new form, a more subtle and conniving one. 

The fact is that a truly militant, class-oriented UAW would have rejected this insulting and insufficient agreement outright. It would have brought every single member on strike for as long as it took to get back everything stolen from the workers since the 80s and then some. Instead, we have a class collaborationist UAW attempting to sell a concessionary contract by disguising its betrayal as a victory. When the bar is so low, when the workers have had so much taken from them because of the treacherous yellow unionism of the UAW, any contract could be considered “historic.”

This is why a contract’s “unprecedented” nature must not be the measure of a good agreement. Instead, we should ask, does this agreement not only reclaim everything lost in the preceding decades but also provide substantial gains on top of that? What’s more, Is the deal free of significant concessions to the capitalist? We consider a contract good only when the answer to questions like these is a loud, resounding “Yes!”. 

We cannot afford to continue wasting time on failed strategies and leaders. Fain and the rest of the UAW leadership, through their actions during the strike and their praise and acceptance of these agreements,  have shown themselves incapable and unwilling to fight earnestly for the workers. Therefore, the workers must take it upon themselves to force their hand. It is time to reject all TAs and resume the struggle for a better contract. It is time for a full strike, an actual strike, of all members of “The Big Three” simultaneously. The UAW leadership will not do this on their own. It will take an organized struggle by the workers to force the issue, which is possible. The rank-and-file workers make the union, and they have the right to decide the path forward. Let the workers’ rejection send a message to Fain: “If you won’t fight, we will!”